Vista Spectrophotometer Improves Color Quality Control for Vodka Distilleries

I was at a bar with a Russian friend the other day. He ordered us some premium vodka, and it was so smooth that I almost forgot how alcoholic it was! This got me thinking about how the vodka I drank in college wasn’t good vodka. My friends and I (and much of the student body) would buy one of many different brands of what was all essentially the same rotgut. For about ten dollars, we could purchase 1.75 liters of this clear, syrupy liquid in a plastic bottle. I know it was distilled, at least a few times. However, when you drank it, although you couldn’t see them, you could feel on your tongue little bits of—something—floating around in there. Maybe that’s why it tasted so bad.

Popov vodka
You know it’s the right stuff when it comes in a plastic handle. Image credit: Flickr User Kim+5 (CC BY 2.0)

 

Brand Consistency for Vodka Distilleries

 

Not all vodka comes in plastic handles, and even if it does, quality control is an essential element of the production process. After repeated distillation, manufacturers subject their batches to a battery of QC tests designed to ensure color clarity, transparency, and the flavor is consistent with their brand. Only after passing this regimen is the vodka bottled and shipped to distributors.

 

The reason for this is obvious: brand consistency. A major selling point for middle and top-shelf vodka companies is their comparative quality and distinctive flavor, or lack thereof. Should they ship out batches of off-color vodka, customers are likely to choose a different option off the shelf. These customers will also remember the decision and will be more likely to choose another brand in the future. That holds true even if the batch in front of them is the color it’s supposed to be.

 

Customers won’t notice haze or strange flavors until after they’ve bought the bottle, or received a drink at the bar. However, they’ll remember the experience and will be more likely to choose a different brand the next time they’re looking for a drink. Quality control then is not only important for the immediate batch, but to safeguard the reputation of every other future batch as well.

Vodka being sold
Makers of high-quality vodka rely on instrumental color quality control to differentiate their products. Image Credit: Flickr User James Hubley (CC BY 2.0)

 

Instrumental Color and Haze Measurement Ensures Vodka Quality Control

 

With their brand’s reputation at stake, vodka producers rely on transmission spectrophotometers and haze measurement instruments to ensure that their liquor is the right color and completely transparent. These instruments measure color and haze, respectively, using similar methods. They pass a controlled beam of light through a transparent liquid and record any changes in the light as it hits a detector on the other side. Quality control technicians place the sample into the instrument, take the measurement, and observe the result displayed on the instrument’s screen. It is a straightforward method for determining if the sample color (or lack thereof) is within acceptable tolerances.

vodka with city backdrop
Quality and luxury are top selling points of high-quality vodkas. Image Credit: Flickr User AnestesiA Vodka (CC BY 2.0)

 

Benefits and Drawbacks of Color and Haze Measurement Instruments

 

Due to their improved reliability and precision over human observers, color and haze measurement instruments have become the industry standard for quality control of transparent liquids. However, that’s not to say these instruments don’t have drawbacks.

 

For one, their large size crowds up benchtop space in small laboratories, which is especially onerous for small to mid-size craft distilleries. Also, they often require a connection to a nearby PC to store saved color standards, display results or transfer data to a company server. Other aspects are outdated as well, such as the need to calibrate the instrument daily with a set of colored disks.

 

Recognizing the need for improvement, at HunterLab, we’ve designed Vista, a single instrument capable of measuring both transmission color and haze simultaneously. Not only does it replace two instruments with one, it’s also significantly smaller than either earlier machine. Despite its small size, its modern processor is capable of storing saved standards and transmitting data without the need for a PC. Also, its large touchscreen display makes reading measurement data fast and simple. It doesn’t need colored disks, either—it can calibrate automatically at the touch of a button.

 

To read more about how Vista can improve your distillery’s quality control processes, contact us today to speak with one of our friendly, knowledgeable sales professionals.

Cigar Quality Control Made More Stringent with Spectrophotometric Color Analysis

In the 1960’s, aromatic smoke from a bodyguard’s cigar caught Fidel Castro’s attention. According to the story, Castro was so enchanted by the scent that he established a factory in Cuba to produce cigars according to the bodyguard’s instructions.1

Over the next thirty years, that factory’s Cohibas spread to the rest of the world—except, of course, to the US.

But the United States’ lifting of its more than fifty-year-old embargo in 2016 left aficionados anticipating an influx of Cuban cigars. It’s possible that smokers will find the initial quality of Cuban imports lacking,2   but as more and more cigars begin to arrive, US producers must be prepared to hold their own. Many smaller cigar manufacturers currently subject their final products to visual inspections. But making the switch to spectrophotometric technology will allow you to maintain more stringent standards. Inexpensive portable spectrophotometers are a valuable tool for remaining competitive in a shifting market.

Variability in Cured Tobacco Leaves

proper curing techniques are just one part of cigar quality control methods
Advanced color analysis can help insure tobacco crops are harvested for peak flavor. Image credit: Flickr user Romtomtom (CC BY 2.0)

The color of a cured tobacco leaf correlates directly to the chemical components that create the complex cigar smoke flavors prized by connoisseurs—a range of factors that include starch, sugar, chlorophyll, caratenoid, protein, and amino acid levels, as well as total moisture.3 In other words, color can tell you a lot if it’s properly measured.

Some producers monitor color transitions with visual inspection, but this leaves a lot of room for subjective color interpretation. Taking measurements with a spectrophotometer avoids this issue. The device can be used to establish reference standards for various colors of cured tobacco, letting you measure all leaves against the same standards—and helping ensure that crops are processed at peak flavor levels.

Portable spectrophotometers are particularly advantageous for cigar manufacturers. The color and quality of wrapper leaves have the greatest effect on a cigar’s appearance and flavor, but if you use a benchtop spectrophotometers, you’d need to take wrapper leaf samples from your curing facilities and color-test those samples at a separate location, leaving a time gap between sampling and feedback that could slow down your production cycle. Handheld spectrophotometers eliminate this gap, giving you immediate feedback on degrees of curing.

Assessing Variations in Cigar Color

new methods of spectral analysis mean cigar quality control doesn't have to be disruptive
Portable spectrophotometers allow for more streamlined quality control of cigar wrapper leaves. Image credit: Flickr user daniel.stark (CC BY 2.0)

It’s also important to remember that color names like “double claro” or “oscuro” are ultimately industry conventions rather than objective quality indicators. Cigar quality is more apparent from the consistency of color across cigars in any given box.

In this scenario, too, you can turn to portable spectrophotometers to create a series of objective reference standards that each box of cigars must satisfy. Quality assurance inspectors can use handheld devices to sample random boxes for confirmation that natural color variations have not affected the consistency of a specific brand or category, ensuring minimal box-to-box color variation.

Handheld devices like HunterLab’s Mini EZ 4500S are ideal for these types of environments. The device is configured to measure small samples and discrete areas with one-hand operation. A quality inspector can easily master the use of the spectrophotometer and incorporate it into routine production line inspections.

cigar quality control is one way of ensuring customer loyalty
Consumers expect consistent box-to-box cigar quality. Image credit: Flickr user Alex Brown (CC BY 2.0)

A quality cigar can satisfy a smoker’s epicurean desires—but to encourage brand loyalty, cigar producers must strive for consistent quality, from box to box and cigar to cigar. Portable spectrophotometers, like those produced by HunterLab, can help cigar manufacturers achieve this goal. Please get in touch with us to learn more about which of our instruments are right for your production facility. We have more than sixty years of experience working with leaders across a wide variety of industries, and we’re proud to offer unparalleled customer support.

  1. “A Conversation With Fidel,” 1994, http://www.cigaraficionado.com/webfeatures/show/id/A-Conversation-With-Fidel-6005/p/1
  2. “Why U.S. cigar companies can’t wait for you to light up Cuban cigars,” September 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/09/09/why-us-cigar-companies-cant-wait-for-to-light-cuban-cigars.html
  3.  Relationship between color changes and chemical components of flue-cured tobacco leaves during curing, December 2014, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288973551_Relationship_between_color_changes_and_chemical_components_of_flue-cured_tobacco_leaves_during_curing
Spectrophotometers Ensure Supply Chain Quality Control for Garment Manufacturers

By 3:00 am, it’s already on Twitter. At 7:00 the phone is ringing, and the morning just got hectic. Your primary cotton source, a Vietnamese plantation, lost its storage facilities and much of its crop to a major mudslide. Nobody was hurt, but you’ve got to find a new supplier to have any hope of completing the orders already in your pipeline.

That’s no problem. Saved in your files is a three-page list of cotton suppliers, from New Zealand to Spain. A quick look and you find a Turkish plantation that can ship bales down the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic, without a significant price difference. But it’s too bad—you’ve been buying from the same company for years, and you already know that the Turkish cotton will require you to adjust your dyeing process.

It’s not exactly a secret that color consistency can be affected by any change in the location in which a fiber is grown, made, or dyed.1 And if garment manufacturers have more opportunities than ever in a global marketplace, they also have more competition—should you deliver a late or unsatisfactory order, there is always another manufacturer eager to step in and demonstrate their reliability. Every time you lose productivity because of color discrepancies, you risk losing business.

Spectrophotometers Increase Lab Dye Efficiency

But objective color measurement is achievable with spectrophotometric technology. Samples of incoming fabric shipments from suppliers can be scanned and their color assigned an objective numerical value using the Hunter l*a*b coordinate system.

Knowing the color of a fabric before it enters the lab for dyeing allows you to save time by reducing trial-and-error waste. Previous dips might yield information on how a given fabric—Moroccan wool, for example—reacts with specific dyes. Access to this data allows you to more accurately predict which dyes will render a color to match your standard. And by positively identifying that an incoming fabric sample is exactly the same color as a previous sample, you can produce a standard-matching dye in very few trials.

By systematically reducing color disagreement with spectrophotometric analysis, the number of lab dye cycles can be reduced, opening up days or weeks in your lab dye schedule—and perhaps even allowing you to take on a larger volume of orders.

spectrophotometers help ensure quality control for garment manufacturers
The dyeing process is made easier by having data from previous batches on hand. Image credit: Flickr user Kevin Jarrett (CC BY 2.0)

Objective Color Data Streamlines Processes and Reduces Waste

Even before ordering fabric from a certain producer, you can look up color information stored in HunterLab’s EasyMatch QC quality control software and prepare your process based on this data. Once the fabric arrives, you will be ready to move it immediately to the next stage of production.  Easy Match can also save all trial calculations from the lab dye stage, meaning that your textile engineers never need to do the same math twice—even if you’ve got multiple plants and multiple labs.

This type of streamlined communication is still surprisingly uncommon across the industry. Dr. Renzo Shamey, the Polymer and Color Chemistry Program Director at NC State, points out that, for many textile manufacturers, color communication tends to be compartmentalized. Designers, production crew, Q/C and retailers often do not use the same language when discussing color and especially issues pertaining to production and approval of color.”2 By integrating EasyMatch QC software on a systemic level, you have a way to standardize your language and reduce miscommunication. Instead of receiving vague instructions from a retailer such as “warmer” or “more blue,” you can request precise parameters via the Hunter l*a*b coordinate system and ensure that every member of your own production team is on the same page.

The objective nature of the the Hunter l*a*b coordinate system essentially removes the possibility of subjective human error in assessing the colors of incoming fabrics. While different employees might consider the same fabric to be different shades, the numerical value produced by a spectrophotometer measures on the same scale every time.

supply chain quality control for garment manufacturers can be improved with clear standards
Spectrophotometers remove the element of human error in color assessment. Image credit: Flickr user Tony Hisgett (CC BY 2.0)

Spectrophotometers are essential to ensuring quality control of incoming fabrics from global producers. Manufacturers spend a lot of time and resources determining how to dye fabrics from different suppliers, and objective color assessment allows you to eliminate this inefficiency by preparing ahead of time for each job. HunterLab is a leading producer of spectrophotometers for the textile industry. To learn more about how our offerings can streamline your manufacturing processes, get in touch with us.

  1.  “ACT Color Measurement & Communication Voluntary Guidelines & Glossary”, August 2011, https://technicalts.com/blog/textile-apparel-color-matching-expert-round-up/
  2.  “Textile & Apparel Color Matching – Expert Round Up”, 2016, https://technicalts.com/blog/textile-apparel-color-matching-expert-round-up/
Using Color Standardization to Achieve Uniform Color and Consistency in Nut Product Processing
Per capita almond consumption has increased by more than two hundred percent since 2005. This might be nothing but an interesting fact on trivia night for most consumers, but it’s both a business opportunity and a challenge if you’re an almond processor. It’s not easy to satisfy surging demand while adjusting for natural variations in raw material and producing consistently appealing end products.

To meet these challenges, it’s important to commit to careful color measurement and quality control throughout the entire processing cycle, from raw material selection to end product packaging. This, in turn, requires a careful consideration of the color measurement tools you’re using for the job.

Color Measurement Techniques

While the food processing industry has historically relied on colorimetry, it is increasingly turning to spectrophotometry to measure and control color at various stages of the processing cycle. There’s a good reason for this shift.

Colorimeters measure the relative amounts of the primary red, green and blue light components reflected or transmitted by a food product—but spectrophotometers measure light reflection and transmission over the complete spectrum of light wavelengths visible to the human eye (i.e. 380 to 780 nanometers). The end result is that spectrophotometers are better able to measure color characteristics in solid and semi-solid food products, making them better suited for nut processing applications.

Spectrophotometry in the Nutfood Processing Cycle

In fact, spectrophotometers can help maintain nutfood color specificity through all four common phases of the food processing cycle:

1. Food Product Color Formulation

Color and appearance of any food product are vital for attracting consumer interest. Even minor differences can have a heavy impact, which is why marketing research team often test several potential colors of products like nut butter with focus groups before landing on the option with the greatest appeal. Your marketing team’s technicians can use a spectrophotometer to register the color range and specifications for the chosen color, providing a target for the rest of the processing cycle.

Colorimeters can, of course, provide the same type of color information with gradients along the standard L-a-b or LCH coordinates, but they are inadequate for measuring color variations caused by metamerism (i.e. the phenomenon under which two colors appear identical under one set of lighting conditions but as different colors under different lighting) or for measuring variations caused by differences in colorant strength.

Spectrophotometers can establish an objective set of coordinates that account for metamerism variations, that identify colorant strength, and that can include or exclude reflectance variations caused by geometric characteristics of the raw nut meat material. This makes them a far more reliable option.

2. Standards and Tolerances

Once commercial production is underway, there are still plenty of steps in the process where quality issues can crop up, of course, from selecting nuts all the way up to the final milling. Spectrophotometers have historically not been utilized throughout these processing stages because of their complexity and bulk, but a newer generation of hand-held units is eliminating these issues.

Food technicians who employ hand-held spectrophotometers at all stages can better ensure that the product achieves its target color at the end of the cycle. Consider just the step of skin removal: even a very small amount of leftover skin fragments can add reddish pigments to the batch, changing the color of the final product. Spectrophotometers help your technicians spot these issues early, before they’re too difficult to correct.

3. Communications Among Processing Stages

But raw material variations in nutfoods sometimes just don’t become apparent until a late stage in the production cycle. You might regularly deal with color variations during roasting operations as a function of the concentration of oils in the raw material, for instance.

Spectrophotometers still offer a workaround. Your technicians can use them in a feedback loop to alter processing times and conditions in earlier operations so that you are able to achieve consistent colors across multiple batches of the final product.

Variations in lighting conditions along a processing line can also create appearances of color difference that might not actually be valid, and here, again, spectrophotometric measurement eliminates any uncertainty.

Uncertain lighting conditions in the plant can sometimes make it challenging to accurately assess color variations. Image credit: Flickr user Prayitno (CC BY 2.0)

4. Quality Control

For better or for worse, the United States department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory authorities rely on color as a significant indicator of food safety—color accounts for at least 20% of the grade rating for nut butter in the USDA’s regulations. Using spectrophotometers at the final stage of your processing cycle helps ensure that your products meet and exceed applicable regulations and quality standards before you send them off to market.

Hand-held and portable spectrophotometers have become easy to use during every stage of nut processing. Nutmeat processors who continue to rely on older color measurement techniques may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage when faced with processors who use spectrophotometers to achieve uniform and consistent color in their final products. 

HunterLab is a leading provider of spectrophotometers for the food industry and can help you choose the products that will let your company stay on the cutting edge. Get in touch to learn more about our solutions.